If someone tried to take MY books, I would punch them in the throat

So, Cory. The talk I saw was “Copyright versus Universal Access to All Human Knowledge and Groups Without Cost: the state of play in the global copyfight“. This is another love story, not with a subject, but with books.

Doctorow started his lecture with a homily to books. How we feel about them, how we want keep them and pass them on to our children. I was physically repulsed as he described a job he had at a bookstore when he had to remove the covers and destroy the innards of books that were being returned to the publisher (which was totally his point).

We are at the frontier of figuring out how to move forward in a world of electronic delivery of the arts – ebooks, digital media, and so on – can be accessed, downloaded and shared. But when you bring back the analogies of the “traditional” world of books and mixed tapes, then the absurdity of copyright law is revealed.

Doctorow also talked about “self help” copyright rules and the 3 Strikes premise, which essentially means that any ISP receiving an infringement notice, no matter how spurious, can and will cut off Internet access to the offending household, and you know that there are not many of us (except perhaps that guy living in a cabin in South Dakota, and even he needs access to the Anarchist’s Cookbook), who can make a living or have a life without the Interwebs.

Doctorow asks us to learn about the copyright law in our own countries and at the UN level (and he’s not so happy with the UN), and to participate in discussions as the law is being created.

For, as his informal poll pointed out, none of us are innocent within the system as it is being developed.

During the questions, there was one interesting one referring back to the session I saw with Neal Stephenson and Jaron Lanier – where Jaron had been talking about what he thinks is a more equitable system of delivery. Essentially, we all pay a few cents per use of whatever commodity we want to use — including art, writing, music… Doctorow’s response is that he thinks this is not tenable. He says that experimentation has shown that the cost of us having to decide whether or not this content is worth “5 cents” is  greater than the 5 cents, and so we won’t participate.

Unfortunately, the other questioner was an older “volunteer” with the festival who hijacked the time with simplistic questions (and she asked TWO, which is a no-no). Apparently she did the same at the later session, and I’d strongly recommend that someone explain to her why this is annoying.

I think for this kind of topic, each of us has to think it through and I at least agree that we should participate where we can in the discussion. I do believe that the ability to block someone from the Internet is a very harsh sentence, and needs to be used with care, and I don’t have trust that it will be, since the primary players are lawyers and ISPs.

Now I’m off to fondle my books.

But what publishers of books and music are trying to do, argues Doctorow, is develop a world where, at any time, and with no forewarning, they can reach into your home and essentially “take back” the books that you already purchased. That all that small print in the copyright (sometimes bigger than the ebook they are trying to sell) is basically you signing off on their right to do so.

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